People walk past the exterior of the Utah Pantages Theater entrance on Main Street in Salt Lake City Friday. The company that formally acquired the property last year filed demolition permits last week. (Carter Williams, KSL.com)
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SALT LAKE CITY — The legal fight over the future of the Utah Pantages Theater in downtown Salt Lake City took another twist this week as plans to demolish the century-old building take shape.
Utah court records show that a representative with the Texas-based global development company, Hines — which is now the owner of the building and the developer behind a proposed high-rise project that would replace the theater — filed a request for a civil stalking injunction against a Salt Lake City organizer who has led protests and filed lawsuits over the project.
The order was filed in 3rd District Court on Thursday against Michael Patton, an organizer who goes by the name Michael Valentine and is one of the leaders of the “Save the Utah Pantages Theater” group. Details of the complaint are sealed, as it’s still going through the court process.
It was requested a week after the contractor hired to knock down the Utah Pantages Theater filed for four commercial demolition permits related to the project on Jan. 27, according to Salt Lake City records. The demolition permits would allow crews to demolish the entire structure, along with a parking structure near the Kearns Building, which Hines also owns.
The vacant building has no signage indicating impending demolition efforts and its front doors on Main Street were locked Friday, with chains wrapped around the handles.
Hines hasn’t disclosed when it plans to tear down the Utah Pantages Theater. Matt Lusty, a partner at Honey Communications, which Hines hired to represent the developer in media dealings, declined to comment on the injunction, adding Hines also won’t publicize when it will start tearing down the theater only as a safety precaution.
The stalking injunction request seemed to catch Valentine by surprise, as he first learned about the order when he was contacted by KSL.com for comment on the legal matter Friday morning. He declined to comment on it until he could read the documents further.
The group posted a response to the demolition permits on Facebook two days after the requests were filed with the city. In that response, the group called the update “upsetting” but that members were still “united together” in their fight to preserve the building.
“We have multiple attorneys working very hard for us right now and the (Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office), (Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City) and (Hines) are getting more and more desperate by the day,” the post read, in part. “They are trying to shove this through and just do whatever they can right now to destroy the theater as that is their only option available here. But there are so many eyes watching all of this.”
Hines officially took over ownership of the building in November, after city officials finalized their $0 agreement with the company in 2019. Lusty said Hines has not amended its plans for the project since it released an updated design proposal in March 2021.
The building plan calls for a 31-story, 368-foot tower with 24 extra feet for mechanical equipment. That would be the third-tallest building on Main Street, behind only the Wells Fargo Center and 111 Main structures. It would offer 400 housing units — 40 designated as affordable housing apartments, as well as 75 studio, 176 one-bedroom, 104 two-bedroom and five penthouse units.
The plan would include a 24-foot first-floor lobby, a private pool and a clubhouse on the fifth floor overlooking a green space planned for the top of the parking structure, referred to as Pantages Park. There would also be a sky lounge on the east half of the 21st and 22nd stories of the building.
The design also includes a five-level parking deck with a minimum of 200 new parking spaces, including 11 electric vehicle stalls and six spaces for drivers with disabilities. Some of the parking spaces would be reserved for Kearns Building parking.
But the agreement between the city and developer infuriated several residents and groups, who have accused the city of, as one of the group’s posts on Wednesday put it, “backroom deals.” Save the Utah Pantages Theater, which was formed prior to the agreement, also pushed for a city ballot initiative last year to ask residents if they would grant the building preservation protection status or establish a Downtown Historic Theatre District.
Its leaders sued the city after both were denied, contesting they weren’t able to get enough signatures to get their initiative on the ballot as a result of a procedural hold-up on the first one, while a city law barred the second one. That lawsuit has since been appealed all the way up to the Utah Supreme Court, according to court records.
The building is not on the National Register of Historic Places but Kirk Huffaker Preservation Strategies determined in September 2021 that it qualified for the registry and also for Salt Lake City Historic Landmark status. The registry status meant that the building preservation projects could qualify for state and federal tax credits, while the city historic status would protect it from being demolished.
“The truth is our historic treasures need to be protected and honored — officially and with great pride,” Valentine said at the time.
Valentine also made headlines last summer when he chained himself to the exterior of the building while going on a hunger strike. Court records show Valentine also was charged in July 2021 with criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct, both infractions, in relation to an incident at the theater’s location that month. A bench trial is scheduled to begin in that case next month.
Multiple individuals, including members of the Save the Pantages Theater, then filed a lawsuit against Salt Lake City in the fall, about a week after the city relinquished control of the building, challenging some of the city’s processes in approving building designs. That case is ongoing.
Valentine added Friday there may also be more legal cases in the near future as a result of the building plan.